Hamas Wants to Stop Governing Gaza While Continuing to Rule It

What do Hamas’s leaders hope to achieve in the current war? First of all, writes Matthew Levitt, survival. Second, they want the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) to return to power in the Gaza Strip, which happens to accord with one of the commonly floated plans for the day after the current war. Hamas, to this end, has engaged in reconciliation talks with its arch-rival, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which currently controls the PA. Levitt explains:

In seeking to force a new governance structure on Gaza and to refashion the PLO in its own image, Hamas hopes to impose a Hizballah model on the territory. Like Hizballah, the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Shiite militant movement in Lebanon, Hamas wants a future in which it is both a part of, and apart from, whatever Palestinian governance structure next emerges in Gaza. That way, as with Hizballah in Lebanon, it hopes to wield political and military dominance in Gaza and ultimately the West Bank without bearing any of the accountability that comes from ruling alone.

Why risk giving up control in Gaza, which it ruled since 2007? Because

the movement’s support in Gaza appeared to be eroding. Israel’s pre-October 7 strategy toward Hamas was based on buying calm by allowing Qatari funds to flow into Gaza in the hopes that this would decrease support for Hamas militancy among the Gazan population. For all the criticism Israel has faced for this approach in the months since Hamas’s attack, there is some indication that it was working.

Hamas also feared Israeli normalization with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis were demanding that Israel take tangible and irreversible steps toward a two-state solution and that Washington enter into a formal security treaty with Riyadh; in exchange, the Saudis would formally recognize Israel. Most Palestinians likely saw progress on Palestinian statehood as a good thing, but not Hamas, which has always been dead set against a two-state solution and committed to Israel’s destruction.

So as Hamas sees it, . . . it must adopt a Hizballah model in its relation to the postwar governance structure that emerges—joining with the PLO and changing the Palestinian movement from within while maintaining Hamas as an independent fighting force. For Hamas, this would be a return to first principles: it could pursue its fundamental commitment to destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamist Palestinian state in all of what it considers historic Palestine.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Hizballah, Palestinian Authority


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict